Brotherly ties bringing out the best in business: An entrepreneur pair


digital marketing agency Rocket, CEO

James Lawrence, co-founder of Rocket Agency

Entrepreneur | Featured

By Momoko Metham

Digital marketing agency brothers grow a $5 million business and shoot to the top with an Amazon bestseller

There’s something intriguing about successful sibling duos. Think Serena and Venus, Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Ben and Casey Affleck – the list goes on. How is it that there is so much talent in one family? It just doesn’t seem fair.

Joining the ranks of sibling success stories is James and David Lawrence, co-founders of award-winning Sydney digital marketing agency Rocket, who in 2019 marked their 13 years building a $5 million business with the release of their now Amazon Australia #1 best seller ‘Smarter Marketer.’

David and James Lawrence are humbled by the achievement, seeing Smarter Marketer as a culmination of lessons learned from working with more than 500 in-house marketing teams since 2006.

Over that time, they have grown Rocket to more than 30 marketing specialists, and worked on thousands of campaigns, some of them achieving Australia’s highest marketing accolades.

Here, James shares a little of those lessons learned, how they’ve managed to keep their relationship and their business strong at the same time.

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How have you managed working with family? 

David and I co-founded Rocket in partnership with Garry Viner, who might as well be the third brother in the gang, having worked so closely together over the years. Working with family brings with it the obvious benefits of unconditional trust and a chance to truly speak your mind. But if I’m honest I think, strangely, the fact that David and I are unbelievably competitive with each other is the reason we’ve achieved so much and brought a great team along for the ride.

What was the prior experience you had?

Before launching and growing Rocket, we founded and grew several businesses that relied on digital marketing. In the late nineties, David and Garry set up a custom web-development agency, which they ran for eight years. I was doing paid search before Google AdWords existed in Australia and launched a digital marketing business just after the turn of the millennium.

After selling out of both businesses, the three of us joined efforts to form a new company focused on building small business websites using a cloud-based content management system.We grew this company to more than five thousand customers in Australia and New Zealand, and we employed more than one hundred people.

Within a few short years, we had won virtually every award a fast-growing tech company could win in Australia: BRW Fast Starters, Deloitte Tech 50, BRW Best Places to Work and the Smart Company Awards, to name a few.

What were the main challenges you’ve faced?

Like a lot of businesses, we had one major ongoing issue: marketing. We had grown quickly off the back of aggressive and technical digital marketing, but our approach got more expensive and less effective every year.

We continued to review individual channels like Google AdWords and search engine optimisation (SEO) to see how we could squeeze more from the same investment. What we were unable to see at the time was that we needed to invest in a better strategy, not simply pursue incremental improvements using the same tactics.

During this period, we still thought like tech entrepreneurs. Digital marketing was put within the frame of tech, not within the frame of marketing. Even today, many companies continue to approach digital marketing within that same frame.”

What have you learned about marketing your own businesses?

Eventually things began to change for us. To truly succeed online, we needed a much more sophisticated way of thinking and a much greater investment in people and resources.

We needed to move out of the confusion and into the clarity of a strategy-first perspective. In 2012, we started to make massive changes to how we marketed ourselves and our clients.

These changes ultimately led us to start Rocket which has since become one of the top digital marketing agencies in Australia.

What tips do you have to grow a business through digital marketing

Of course, Smarter Marketer shares a lot of those insights, but most importantly you need to think marketing-first.This in turn will be customer-first and results-first.

Place yourself in the mind of your ideal prospect and begin by giving them something before asking for something. Pay serious attention to your messaging, guided by what the competition is doing. Ensure a consistency of brand and messaging across multichannel campaigns.

If you follow these basic rules of marketing you will see firsthand that digital marketing is just marketing and soon enough the two will be indivisible.

Related: Is sending a text the most effective marketing strategy?

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